252 A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
among them, and I tried to forget the conspicuous shape of my London-made clothes.
He explained that this meeting was the first which had been held for many years in the region, while Sheikh Abu Shrump pointed out that such a Dervish assembly was always dated according to certain phases of the moon; that it was always held on a night of the new or full moon, as these nights were considered to be particularly sacred.
"This is not going to be a noisy shouting assembly/' the Sheikh added. "We are all quiet people who have gathered together out of love for Allah."
I looked around. A tall flagpole had been planted in the centre of the open space and from its top fluttered a rose-coloured pennant which was embroidered with gilt Arabic lettering. Row after row of squatting Bedouins and villagers was grouped around the pole, in the form of a perfect circle. In an adjoining field I had passed a varied assortment of tethered beasts belonging to the richer of these men, some of whom had ridden, I was told, from villages as far as twenty miles off. None was permitted to be present except those who had been invited.
The scene presented under the star-dotted blue African sky was charming. Over two hundred white-turbaned heads formed a great circle on the ground and bobbled up and down below me. Some were the heads of old, white-haired men; others those of mere boys. Heavily fronded palm trees, whose leaves rasped together in a night breeze and whose black shadows were -printed across the court, fringed two sides of the open place, while a few square buildings bordered the other sides. Masses of tropical creepers surrounded the buildings. Beyond lay darkness, the fields, the hills, the Nile and the desert. The li^ht of the moon and stars was assisted by a single powerful lamp, which was suspended on the verandah above our heads.
With the coming of midnight, one of the Dervishes stood up and sang out a verse of the holy Quran in a clear and melodious voice. He had no sooner ended the last word than it drew in response a long-drawn chant of "There is no God but Allah" from two hundred throats.
A boy, who seemed no more than six years old, although that meant a good deal more maturity in the East than in Europe, advanced to the centre of the throng, took up his stand next to the flagstaff, and sang from memory and at the top of his silvery